Hitting the open road or flying the friendly skies doesn’t seem like a possibility when you have tag-along toddlers in your crew. But it is and traveling with children can be a rewarding experience at any age. Here are a few tips on how to give your children the gift of travel without giving yourself a stress-related meltdown.
- Pack a travel crib. Having a safe, clean space for your baby to sleep is one of your top priorities. By allowing him to nap in his portable pad a few days ahead of the trip(s), he’ll be more comfortable and should be able to fall asleep faster. Plus, bringing an extra bed for your smallest co-pilot means you don’t have to cross your fingers and hope the hotel has a spare. Wayfair explains the differences between portable cribs and travel cribs to help you make a thoughtful choice.
- Drive through the night. Some babies actually do quite well in the car. The sounds of the tires in the pavement coupled with the gentle swaying of the vehicle mimic the womb and make for great sleep. Always keep your baby in the back and, as Baby Center notes, make sure his or her car seat is properly installed before you leave the driveway.
- Wear your baby. If you’ve never slung a baby sling around your chest, now’s the perfect time to try it. Babywearing is practiced throughout the world and is proven to reduce fussiness. This is especially important when you’re trying to enjoy a new museum or long walk on the beach. Plus, it’s convenient and, if worn correctly, won’t hurt your back.
- Don’t over-plan. Toddlers have, at best, an attention span that lasts 15 minutes. That doesn’t mean you can’t plan an afternoon at the beach but try not to fill your days with too many of the same types of activities, such as going to museums. Another issue with over-planning is that kids at this age aren’t predictable. One trip may be smooth and pleasant and the next they’ll be tired, cranky, and jet-lagged. (Family Vacation Critic offers more information of jet lag in children.)
- Pay for the seat on long flights. Although it’s not usually required for children less than 2 years of age, if your flight is more than an hour, spring for the seat instead of trying to manage a squirmy toddler in your lap. If you can’t stomach the thought of carrying around a bulky car seat, the Federal Aviation Administration has approved a less cumbersome option. The CARES Child Safety Device is available for children between 22 pounds and 44 pounds.
- Ask for help. From your hotel to the airport, there are staff members available who can help you with some of the logistical issues involved in traveling with young children.
- Offer lots of variety. While children in the 5-to-12 crowd have much longer attention spans than the tiniest of travelers, they will still get bored if forced to follow a full adult itinerary. One of the best ways to travel with children this age group is to visit an all-inclusive resort or take a family cruise. Not only will there be plenty of activities, but also most offer age-specific programs where guides will take your children on their own adventure.
- Give them a voice. Children want to explore and will appreciate you asking for their input on planned activities. One travel-savvy mom tells Ciao Bambino that she’s had success letting each member of the party choose how to spend an afternoon and claims the kids will be more enthusiastic about mom and dad’s special (read: boring) activities if they know theirs is just around the corner.
- Bring a friend. Teenagers are perhaps the easiest group to travel with as they can handle pretty much anything you throw them away. From intercontinental flights to grueling daylong hikes, teenagers are pretty much capable of handling themselves in any situation. However, it’s not cool at this age to spend all of your time with your parents so consider letting them bring a friend along to share in the experience.
- Let them be free. To a reasonable extent, give your teenager some autonomy throughout your trip to plan excursions without you. Make sure they have a working cell phone and are aware of areas they should steer clear.
Traveling with your children, no matter their ages, is an enjoyable and rewarding activity that offers many benefits for everyone in your party. So, pack your bags and set sail; the world is waiting.